Photography Glossary for Beginners

4/09/2020 8:07 am

If you are in the market for a new digital camera, or you are a beginner who is looking to take their photography game to the next level, chances are you have stumbled across some new, confusing terms during your research. 


From aperture to zoom, this glossary takes you through some of the key terms that you may find in product descriptions and online tutorials, in hopes that you can make the right decision at the checkout and have less confusion while developing your photography skills.

Photography Glossary for Beginners

Aperture - Aperture refers to the diameter of the lens opening, which is responsible for letting light in. As highlighted in this infographic, a smaller number means a larger hole, which lets in more light but produces a shallow depth of field.


Automatic - A fairly self-explanatory term, a camera’s automatic mode is a go-to setting if you want to point and shoot and have the camera do the hard parts for you. Automatic modes have improved in effectiveness over time, with modern “scene recognition modes” being better equipped to adjust your camera to specific shooting scenarios.


Bokeh - Bokeh is a term used to describe the quality or attractiveness of the out-of-focus areas of an image. It can be seen in good effect in images with shallow depths of field, and while it cannot be measured, its creation is usually a feature of lenses with fast maximum apertures.

Composition - We talk about composition a lot when attempting to inspire users to be more creative with their photography. Composition refers to how and where subjects are placed within the frames of your image. See here, for tips on how to become better at composing your images.


Continuous Shooting - Usually displayed as a number of frames per second, the continuous shooting rate of your camera will dictate the maximum amount of shots it can take in a second when your camera is set accordingly and you hold the shutter release down.  Having a camera with a fast continuous shooting rate, or burst mode is generally the key for the best sports photography.


Depth of field - This means how much or how little of your image is in focus. To experiment with depth of field, adjust the aperture of your camera lens.


Exposure Triangle - The exposure triangle refers to the relationship of the 3 key settings used to adjust the exposure for your image; Aperture, ISO and Shutter speed. It is described this way, as achieving good exposure is a balancing act of sorts. Ie. Making a change to one requires another change being made to one or both of the others.


F-stop - (See aperture)

File-format - This refers to the type of file that your image is saved as. JPEG is very common and is good for online uses, but files saved in this format do lack some integral information, making other formats popular amongst photographers. These include the lossless format known as TIFF, as well as RAW, which stores all of the data of your image with no processing, allowing for the highest quality as well as limitless editing opportunities.


Flash gun - Sometimes referred to as a Speedlite or Speedlight, a flash gun attaches to the hot shoe of your camera and automatically provides a strong burst of flash or artificial light, to better illuminate your subjects. While the majority of cameras have a built-in flash, they lack the power and versatility of external flash options.


Focal length - Focal length refers to the angle of view of a lens. While the measurement, given in mm, actually refers to the distance between the lens and the image sensor of the camera, a higher number does result in a narrower field of view, and subsequently a higher magnification.


Hot-Shoe - A hot-shoe can be found on most DSLR and Mirrorless cameras and some advanced compact digital cameras. It is in place for attaching external flash guns and similar accessories.


ISO - ISO is best described as the camera’s sensitivity to light. When using a film camera, a user decides on the best ISO for a shoot and loads a roll of film accordingly, digital cameras allow the ISO to be adjusted whenever necessary. A higher ISO allows the camera to shoot in darker scenarios, with the downside being more image noise at higher settings.

Image noise - Similar to grain, image noise refers to small particles and blotches that can appear on an image and is sometimes detrimental to its quality. It is often more prevalent when shooting in darker conditions and using higher ISOs.


Image Stabilisation - Image Stabilisation is the technology which corrects for bumps that occur when shooting a camera without the help of a tripod, which results in the limiting of camera shake or blur. Sometimes this technology is found in lenses, other times it is built into the camera. Different camera manufacturers have a different name for their Stabilisation system, such as IS, VR, OSS etc.


Shutter Speed - Shutter speed refers to the length of time that the camera’s shutter remains open when taking a photograph. Shooting at a faster shutter speed is best for freezing fast-moving subjects, while slower shutter speeds can be used to let in more light in darker conditions, although this does increase the incidence of blur.


Sensor/Sensor size - An image sensor is responsible for translating the light coming through your lens into a digital image. The sensor size simply refers to how large this image sensor is, with a larger sensor generally producing a better quality image than a smaller one.

Macro - Macro photography is the process of photographing subjects from a very close distance. Macro subjects are often very small in size, which requires the use of purpose-built Macro or Micro lenses for best effect.


Manual shooting - The opposite of Automatic, the Manual mode of your camera allows the user to take control of the key camera settings.


Megapixels - Pixels are small squares that are pieced together to create a digital image. A megapixel actually refers to the collection of one million pixels, so in practice, a 12 Megapixel camera will use 12-million pixels when capturing an image. 


Metering - The metering system of a camera measures the amount of light that is entering through the lens of the camera. It is important as having an accurate reading allows for a better exposure.


Prime lens - A lens that provides only one focal length.


Viewfinder - A viewfinder is a small opening that can be found at the rear of the camera which can be looked through when composing an image. An optical viewfinder, which can be found in DSLRs uses a mirror to display the view coming through the lens, while an Electronic Viewfinder is a digital readout of the image sensor.


White Balance - White balance is the setting on your camera that can be adjusted to ensure that a white object will appear as white under different lighting. Having it set correctly produces naturally appearing colours with no casts. To find out how to do so, read here.


Zoom lens - A zoom lens is a lens that can be adjusted to provide multiple focal lengths between its two endpoints.

Put your new-found knowledge to use

With this new understanding of key photographic terms under your belt, you are ready to dive into your photography journey head-on. If you need help deciding on new camera gear, contact our friendly expert staff. For the latest tips, tricks and gear advice, head to our Photography Blog.


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